Review: 'Her' (2013)

By: Heather Seebach

Romance films are among the most boring of genres because love, despite being one of the most complex and mysterious things a human being can experience, is usually portrayed through a series of dull cliches. From lame rom-com's to Nicholas Sparks drivel, too many of these films look the same and provide a sugary-sweet but ultimately unrealistic perspective on love. The L word is almost always synonymous with heartache, and only the films that embrace that fact can really nail the complete picture. Spike Jonze's Her is such a film, and much like the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it uses a touch of sci-fi to tell its tale of love and loss (not necessarily in that order).

 Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely writer who spends his days composing love letters for other people. Since reluctantly splitting up with his wife, he has struggled to connect romantically with anyone. Upon purchasing a new operating system for his computer, he is surprised to discover it has artificial intelligence and a lovely female voice (Scarlett Johansson). This thinking, evolving OS, who names herself Samantha, bonds with Theodore over laughs and late-night conversations until man and machine inevitably fall in love with each other.

The reason Her works so well is that everything in Theodore's world builds to his relationship with Samantha, and that bond is treated with the utmost sincerity. Here is a heartbroken man in a modern (or slightly futuristic) world where human-on-human interaction has been replaced by computer screens and bluetooth headsets. Sound familiar? Before Samantha, the closest Theo got to relationships were chat room sex sessions and the fake love letters he composes for strangers. On a blind date, he reveals he researched the girl online to which she replies, "That's so romantic." This is a society even more absorbed in technology than our own, albeit just a few footsteps forward in time. 

Nothing about this film feels like exaggerated science fiction. The bond between Theodore and Samantha is every bit as powerful and believable as the best on-screen romances, due in no small part to the chemistry between Phoenix and Johansson who are never ever in the same room. Every laugh, every argument, and every intimate moment shared between them are without a wink of irony or judgement. For all this, Her is incredibly romantic. At the same time, the subtext about artificial intelligence and the philosophical complications that come with it, is fascinating.

In addition to being subtle but great sci-fi and swoon-worthy romance, this movie is surprisingly funny! It has a quirky and occasionally dark sense of humor all its own. Jonze's voice cameo is particularly deserving of a few chuckles. As the other women in Theodore's life, Amy Adams and Rooney Mara turn in fantastic supporting performances (surprising nobody). Of course, it's Phoenix who really steals the show with another flawlessly sympathetic and magnetic performance. 

Another character of sorts is the fantastic soundtrack, including Phoenix and Johansson's beautiful ukulele duet "The Moon Song" - if that one does not bring a tear to your eye, you are officially more robot than Samantha. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Her is the stunning cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In; The Fighter). Every shot of this film is breath-taking, thanks partially to soft, minimal lighting and the evocative use of color. There are slow, detailed close-ups and wide cityscapes, each building the romance effortlessly. Meanwhile, subtle set design and costume cues suggest a semi-futuristic world without sacrificing realism.

Her is the kind of movie that renews my faith in romance films, not only in their capacity to make us swoon and cry, but to deliver a unique and relevant love story. This could have been a scathing indictment of a world too reliant on technology but instead it focuses on the notion that love in any form can shape our lives for the better. 


The DVD/Blu-ray release (now available) includes three short featurettes: 1) The Untitled Rick Howard Project, a behind-the-scenes doc by Lance Bangs; 2) Love In the Modern Age, a collection of interviews about modern love, including reactions from Marc Maron, Olivia Wilde, Bret Easton Ellis, and more; 3) How Do You Share Your Life with Somebody?, an extended trailer with some behind-the-scenes footage, which is pretty redundant of the first featurette. Oh, and the DVD and Blu are on lovely pink and blue discs, respectively - a minor detail but I appreciated it.

Own Her on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD Download, 5/13:

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